Monday, December 5, 2011

Book Tour: Writing Your Way

Julie Smith is the award-winning author of twenty novels and as many short stories. She’s a former reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as a veteran of her own online writing school, plus an editorial service she founded with two other writers. She’s also taught writing at the University of New Orleans and in numerous private seminars. During her long career as a novelist, she has created four mystery series, including two set in New Orleans where she lives, featuring homicide detective Skip Langdon and poet/P.I. Talba Wallis. 

In 1991, she won the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel. Counting all the novels, all the stories in all the anthologies, the odd essay, and a progressive novel or so, her publishers include just about every big publisher – Ballantine, St. Martin’s, Tor, Walker & Company, Knopf, Doubleday, Avon, Harper-Collins, Berkley, Warner, and Oxford University Press– plus some smaller ones, including Akashic Books, Carrol&Graf, Allen &Unwin, Taplinger, and Four Star.
Her latest book is a how to writing book titled Writing Your Way: The Great American Novel TrackWRITING YOUR WAY is a no-nonsense, jam-packed book on writing fiction that came directly out of the author’s belief that most writing teachers need to cut their students a little slack. Edgar-winner Julie Smith’s approach is to help you find your own writing method, not bombard you with “unbreakable” rules. But make no mistake, she’s going to give you plenty of how-tos—on plot, character, setting, voice, point-of-view, dialogue, pacing and marketing. As well as plenty of practice exercises. And lots of motherly advice.

She also thinks most writing books are so absurdly padded they’re a waste of students’ time. Or they’re all about getting in touch with your inner writer so you can finally get started. WRITING YOUR WAY is for the pre-published novelist who is way past that. It gets right to the point. Offering nuts, bolts, and marketing methods, it’s a thick, dense concentrate of wisdom learned from years of actually… writing. Smith’s the author of dozens of novels and short stories and the founder of Writers’ Track, a method of teaching writing by conference call. She has also taught fiction both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Guest Post: Writers, Rejoice! The Revolution Has Come!

Not since Gutenberg has there been such an upheaval in publishing as in the last three years. And—here’s where I go out on a limb—this one has the potential to be just as positive, both for readers and writers. But especially for writers.

It’s actually a great time to be a writer. I based WRITING YOUR WAY on a course I gave several years ago and when I went back to revise, I found these words: “If your book is fiction, don’t self-publish. Just. Don’t.”

Four years ago, three years ago, even two years ago, I’d have said that was terrific advice. Self-publishing was still a ghetto of shame from which there was rarely any escape. Yes, I noted, there was the rare exception like the best-selling M.J. Rose, but you have to understand, I also observed, that the self-pubbed authors who pull it off actually spend as much or more time promoting the book as they did writing it. And they’re very, very market, savvy. If you aren’t, don’t try this at home, I said. Or words to that effect.

By two years ago, I was already wrong, only I didn’t know it yet. I knew e-books were going to be huge and in fact, I’d become a digital publisher myself, having started what some unkind people have called a “micro” startup, , in late 2009. What I didn’t know was that a lot of indie authors were already figuring out ways to sell ebooks in the hundreds and thousands without benefit of a publisher. Or a brand name. Or, in some cases, even a good book! (Though ,alas, that part’s long been true in traditional publishing as well.)

But early last year certain events occurred that changed publishing forever. First a determined 26-year-old indie author named Amanda Hocking became a huge-selling phenomenon on Amazon, seemingly solely by applying grit and elbow grease. Then, an older, more obviously market-savvy self-publisher named John Locke did it by applying a system that worked so well he wrote it all down and turned the resulting ebook into his next best-seller. And then best-selling Barry Eisler left conventional publishing to go out on his own.

These were seismic events in publishing—maybe not what changed it, but what changed it in our consciousness. What that change meant to a writer was huge. We don’t really need a Big Six publisher any more. Big Pub as we knew it is far, far from being the only game in town now. I recently found this in the Wall St. Journal: “Self-published women’s fiction writer Darcie Chan has seen her new work, ‘The Mill River Recluse,’ hit No. 5 on The Wall Street Journal’s list of digital fiction bestsellers for the week that ended Oct. 23. Ms. Chan priced her novel about a secretive widow living in Vermont at 99 cents, and says she has sold “hundreds of thousands” of copies since it went on sale on Amazon in May. The book, also carried by Barnes & Noble Inc. and other e-retailers, was previously rejected by major publishing houses.”

By the time I read that, I’d already seen Ms. Chan’s book on the New York Times list for weeks. She looks a lot like M.J. Rose at first glance—the rare author who really knows how to make it happen. Except that this time it isn’t like Ms. Rose’s time— Ms. Chan’s no lone wolf! Lots of authors are doing it. Maybe not at such an exalted level, but they’re figuring out ways for their books to find an audience.

It’s worth noting that some of these indie successes have gone on either to sign deals with Big Six publishers or to make a deal with Amazon itself. And boy, is that a great development! The goal is not to be independent just for the sake of being independent—it’s to have more power within the system. And to make more money! When is a contract with a giant advance not a good deal? (Okay, there could be times, but most writers wouldn’t kick it out of bed.) And of course Big Six publishing, though it may have lost its cartel-like status, never lost its cachet. I’ll bet young Amanda H. loves to say, “I just signed a seven-figure deal with St. Martin’s.” Who wouldn’t?

So naturally when I revised my book, I had to eat my words about self-publishing. It’s a real, viable choice these days, and in many cases a choice preferable to selling to a small publisher or even a big one. Although I do need to make one caveat—given the choice of a $5000 deal with St. Martin’s (very small, but maybe likely for a first time author) and self-publishing, I’d take the deal if I were a first-timer. Because authors who already have a following and who decide to self-publish have a much smaller mountain to climb than those who don’t.

In other words, you could do this—do three series books with St. Martin’s and then, if you felt you weren’t making enough and you needed to move, on, you could continue your series online. You probably wouldn’t get your digital rights back, but you might—I sure know authors who have—and who cares anyway? You could build your new products on your old ones.

See? Choices. We never had them before. Suddenly we writers are like little new-born Disney animals, blinking our uncomprehending baby eyes in the sunlight. And this lovely new world’s a great place to be.

Links: Julie Smith's Website/Twitter /Facebook /email: 

For the rest of the tour dates, click here

Review for December 6 part of the tour
Our review: Twenty mystery novels, numerous published short stories, awarded the Edgar Allen Poe award for best novel (1991), Julie Smith is a writer. Her latest book, Writing Your Way: The Great American Novel Track (ebook), offers valuable advice to both aspiring/new writers and experienced writers who may need a refresher. Don't let the smaller size fool you. At 121 pages, Smith succinctly tackles problematic areas for many writers ranging from the importance of first chapters, plot, dialogue, characters, pacing, setting, research and more--without the excess verbiage some authors pile on to their own writing tomes. Some handbooks wind up sounding more like memoirs than how-to guides. 

Not this book. As a writer myself I enjoyed Smith's words of wisdom and experience. She ends each chapter or section with a review of what the reader can 'takeaway' from their reading. Besides advice, Smith offers examples of what she's addressing in a humorous and pragmatic way. I liked and learned from her advice and found the examples she used with Huckleberry Finn (very effective with the different points-of-view!) and The Great Gatsby (for setting) eye-opening. I also found her discussions and quotes from other author's writing books--Stephen King and Anne Lamott (besides others)--refreshing. And I thought she was spot-on with her remarks concerning Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. 

Anyone wishing to become a writer or has taken the baby steps to seriously pursue their dreams of publication should pick up Julie Smith's Writing Your Way.  Not only does the author go through the writing process, she gives examples, snippets from her experience as both a writer and reporter, and she addresses what a writer needs to know besides simply typing on a computer. Joining a critique group, taking a creative writing class, searching for an agent, Smith covers it all making Writing Your Way a needed how-to work. For under five dollars, the knowledge, advice, tips and insight are a steal.

Rating: Thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommended. I know I will be rereading parts when needed.

Book source: From author for my totally honest review to use during a book tour.

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